Thursday, September 29, 2011

What is the 'real' value of certifications to companies and their customers?

 In the current Kenya setup, there are a number of companies that are aspiring to get coveted international certifications like ISO for quality management systems, environmental or security requirements compliance, etc. but how many are actually striving to improve their service offerings to their customers? Few. Many just want to flaunt them to their competitors and prospective customers but not on improvement of their service delivery.

Take the example of some public universities (I think almost all of them). They have ISO 9001:2008 certification. But how many lecturers and administrators in these universities appreciate that students are their most important customers? Very few. This is precisely the reason why you will have an ISO certified university that does not have a clear policy (or is it direction?) of where admission forms should be ‘deposited’ or returned to!

I had a nasty experience the other day where I had to shuttle between two university campuses trying to convince the secretaries (these are the people you will mostly interact with in a university set up) that, as per the forms, I was supposed to 'deposit' them at their offices. Ultimately, since I would not convince any, I left in a huff and waited to hear from my colleagues where the forms are supposed to be taken. This incident brings me to the question: this university being ISO certified, does it mean that there is no clear policy on where admission forms are supposed to be delivered? What about what is indicated on the forms? If there is, whose responsibility is it that it is adhered to, when prospective students are sent from one corridor or campus to another and they have no recourse? It is very disheartening, annoying and frustrating to say the least. Or just sort out the mess by implementing an online admission system. And issues will be sorted out, pap!

On another day, I'd the opportunity to walk to DT Dobie trying to locate some spare part for my car and I was indeed impressed by the service offered there. Honestly, those guys don't need an ISO certification, for as a customer, you feel adequately guided and valued as you enter the place. There is a place to pick an entry number, a clear way to queue to be served promptly, another place to pay and an additional place where to sit as you wait for the goods to be delivered (all this does not take more than 15 minutes). Also, all these activities happen within an area of less than 20 metres apart. Surely, does a company require an ISO certification to offer such services? My customers need to feel valued once they step into my 'shop'. This is what all companies need to do.

Inversely, an institution has all the certification it can afford to get but when a customer calls, nobody cares to pick the call and when he comes around, he is taken around the office as if he came for a tour of your offices! I have seen instances where corporations strive to be in their best behaviour when they hear that there is going to be an audit to be done. Is this the spirit of certifications? Nope!

There is a fallacy more so in government owned institutions where ISO certification is becoming part of their performance contract rather than an improvement on their service offering; before they can even think of any certification. How many institutions have the ISO certification but their inefficiency stinks to high heaven and conversely how many institutions do not have any certifications but their service delivery is superb? Private companies can survive if only their service offerings are better than their competition, but they also need to do that so that they can weather the storm.

My guess is that government institutions are being ‘forced’ to offer quality services by getting a certification! But is this helping? My honest opinion is No! It is not helping at all: until their business processes are refined or re-engineered and their culture turned on its head, theirs is a waste of money and it is indeed demeaning to Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) that they should certify some clearly incompetent entities. Let KEBS and their partners advise prospective certifees ( I hope there is such a term) that they need to put their house in order before that paper can be handed to them. It is my sincere hope that these certifications will not be considered a worthless paper by offering it to some dubious characters.

Customers demand quality services and not certifications hanging from offices’ walls!